We who are living now have an obligation to open the future’s doors and make space for the next generation of creators, thinkers, and dreamers. Right now the world is in chaos, and in a time like this, a miracle as small as a poem is what keeps us endlessly possible. When Ernest Ògúnyẹmí approached us to co-edit this anthology, we were grateful for his ability to look so far into the future by looking at the writers who are watching the world move now. Those who may have yet to call themselves ‘writers’ but who spend their now patiently observing life as it passes through them and have found that they must turn to written language to make sense of living.
When we set out to make our selections for the anthology, we were marveled by the gifts glistening in each poem. For us, the future of African Letters became clearer, perhaps than it has ever been. The tomorrow of African poetics—the one we’ve always allocated to new generations until those new generations become of the past—is right here: the voices of legends reincarnated—styles, forms, narrative strengths, and communal responsibility to document the politics of reality—garmented in vigor and artistic glory. From sexuality, duty, familial dynamics, war, love, reclamation, to music and more, the young people here are vulnerable, courageous, and unflinching in their approach to the lived circumstances that are pressing on their generation. The voices that are gathered here are precise—each poet’s ability to carry the canto of their own memories and histories—full of energy, light and desire.
We’re thinking of the anthology’s opening poem, ‘Figurines’ by Animashaun A. Ameen:
I was fourteen when my mother
carved the name of God on my chest
for kissing another boy.
She held a match in her left hand;
abominations are meant to burn to ashes.
I wanted to hold her face to the sky
and remind her love is like water:
but all I did was lay there
and bleed out the virus in my veins
These voices, young and full of promises, are the ones we’ve been anticipating, and now that they are in a single assemblage, we can’t help but acknowledge not just their beauties, but also their sheer brilliance. Certainly, the word ‘future’ extends beyond just its nominal nature—though it is a mirror into the yet-to-happen, parts of it. ‘Future’ as a continuous shift towards uncertainty but also towards hope. If critical scrutiny is paid toward ‘future’ in this context, we realize it also means accessibility. Carl Philips speaks so well of this in his book The Art of Daring. “Accessibility means that a thing should be immediately available to us via the usual means,” Carl wrote. The potency of the word ‘available’, as used in Carl’s assertion, is appropriate for the presence of these voices: they are here, they are with us, and we see them completely.
The both of us being Nigerian—I (Itiola) a diaspora-born Nigerian, and I (Nome) having grown up on the continent—while selecting the poems for the anthology, we were deliberate in choosing an eclectic array of African voices spread out across the continent and the diaspora, as no one region can ever fully represent what African Letters means. The continent is far too vast with both rich and complicated histories for this anthology to fully encapsulate the African experience, but these poems acknowledge some of what is often associated with the continent—one of them being war and strife. As Obasa Funmilayo confronts with elegance and dexterity in ‘The leaves that fell on Easter morn’:
a girl prances around the
pillars as a sermon slips
into the heart of the
an autumn breeze cascades
its leaves in spring, a
sea is set ablaze.
a church has been called
by the sound of bombs:
the sermon lingers in
the air like smoke.
But these poems also address the complicated nature of love, as shown in Babawale Al-Ameen’s poem, ‘The Thing About Love’:
everything that sweetens can
also make our lives bitter, and
love, whatever else it is, is no exception.
T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and The Individual Talent” wrote, “No poet, no artist, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” To write with such veracity and candor at such a young age, to us, is a marker of longevity. To that end, this anthology is a collection of vastness of the African voice, the limitlessness of the African narrative, and a ceremonial passing of the torch. May we, the readers of these works, nurture the seeds of their curiosity.
I.S. Jones and Nome Patrick Emeka,